A crowd of over 300 people, mostly seniors, shared their concerns about a proposed Alberta-run pension plan at the NDP’s St. Albert town hall last Thursday.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley greeted the crowd by asking attendees to raise their hands if they would like to stay in the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). The answer from those gathered at the St. Albert Legion building was a resounding “yes.”
Participants expressed their uncertainty around pension portability, the long-term viability of Alberta’s oil industry, the province’s ability to manage pension investments, the question of whether young Albertans would receive less from an Alberta plan, and the impacts of a pension change on people who are receiving Canada’s disability benefit, CPPD, among others.
Asked why the UCP is interested in an Alberta pension plan, Notley said that it’s a conversation that the NDP caucus is often having among themselves.
"Why are they still on this?” she said. “I think that it is about the money … Even if it was $100 billion, that's a lot of money to play with … and to use as leverage in the unending fight against Justin Trudeau, which is a very moment-in-time kind of feeling which does not drive good decision-making over the long term.”
Responding to questions from attendees, Notley said the change would shrink Alberta’s investment pool and undermine investment security.
She questioned whether Premier Danielle Smith’s government could be trusted to make investments that would benefit a majority of Albertans and whether the money would be used to prop up Alberta’s oil industry.
“Our economy, although at times very rich, also, at times, suffers the biggest drops,” she said. “You want to make sure that whatever you do, you're doing it from the perspective of security of the fund, not from the perspective of picking winners and losers in our economy.”
She noted young people not currently contributing to the CPP do not have the same guarantee of “matched or superior” pension payments, creating the possibility of a “two-tiered” system, and she argued that the move could ultimately drive young people, the source of much of Alberta’s current wealth, away from the province.
Also on Notley’s list of criticisms was the cost of switching to an Alberta plan.
“The government itself suggests that the admin costs for converting to an APP would be somewhere between $100 million and $2 billion,” she said. “Honestly, when they come to me and say that it's plus or minus 1,000 per cent, I think we're not ready to have this conversation.”
Notley indicated her support for a potential supplemental Alberta pension plan — a top-up to the CPP.
St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud commented on the confusion and turmoil the proposal has caused for people who rely on Canada Pension Plan Disability (CPPD) benefits.
“The UCP’s failure to consult is not just wrong, but it's actually unfair, and somewhat dangerous,” she said.
There were some dissenting voices among the crowd — and some questions targeted not at the potential of an Alberta pension plan, but at Alberta’s NDP party.
One participant questioned the NDP’s allegiance to Alberta over Ottawa.
“I think it’s fair to say that we have a strong record of standing up for Alberta even if that means sometimes being in conflict with other sections of the NDP across the country,” Notley responded, pointing to her party’s work to get the Trans Mountain pipeline underway.
Another participant felt that the federal government had “usurped” control of pensions that should be managed by the provinces and detailed his mistrust for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. However, he also didn’t like AIMCo’s handling of teacher pensions.
Notley said that an advantage of the CPP is that it is safe from political interference, whereas an Alberta plan would be controlled by a small group of people in the provincial cabinet.
“The concern you're raising around AIMCo … is the product of that control,” she said. “Be careful what you wish for.”
Response to the event was mixed.
“I really enjoyed being here, and the big takeaway for me was that I learned so much about the back story,” said attendee Helen Arnott.
Catherine Perron, an undecided attendee, said she was glad she attended, but she still “needed more information” before lending her support either way.
Attendee Tarra Shipman, who has autism, fears an Alberta-run pension plan could mean that she would lose CPPD payments.
“I like the fact that they're fighting, but they should do more on the emphasis on disability,” she said.
Notley told the Gazette she was pleased with the turnout.
“I actually expected there would be more diversity of opinion in the crowd,” she said. “It’s so clear what people want — they want their CPP to be protected. They don’t want to have to fight about this.”
“We need to work harder to engage more Albertans and give them an opportunity to make sure their voices can be heard.”
She said she couldn’t attend every town hall simply because of timing and the sheer number (17) of the events, but came to St. Albert because Renaud suggested “there was a deep interest in having a town hall in St. Albert” and was “very quick to advocate for” the event.